When Mike Halloran started at 91X three decades ago, he and the other DJs had to drive down to the studios in Tijuana. “We didn’t try to hide the fact that we broadcast from Mexico.” The station proudly told its listeners to check out the Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Ramones shows at Iguana’s in Tijuana. And in 1987, more than 20,000 music fans from both sides of the border attended the 91X-sponsored Mex Fest at Tijuana’s Caliente racetrack featuring Oingo Boingo, the Bangles, Squeeze and three other bands.
Halloran has cycled through six different radio frequencies since 1986. For his latest radio act, he’s helping to launch a “borderless” station that will focus on artists and DJs that will sing and speak in both Spanish and English.
“All of us who live at the border speak both languages,” says Cesar Gonzalez, the colorful owner of the now-closed Mama Testa restaurant in Hillcrest who is the new station’s first on-air personality. “Our music will be polyglot which means it will be more than bilingual. We might play metal from Portugal, hip-hop from France or indie from India.”
The station long known as “More FM” will morph into “98/9 TJ-SD” starting March 31. Gonzalez says such heritage roc en español artists as Maná and Caifanes will be phased out, while Anglo bands like Chicano Batman and Portugal The Man will be mixed in with Latin bands like indie rockers Elyguerra and hip-hop group Molotov. “We don’t want it to be just a rock station. We want to be an attitude station.”
A most noteworthy change will be 98/9’s new nighttime devotion to local artists. Halloran says 9 to midnight Monday through Friday the station will exclusively play artists from both sides of the border.
Over the years Halloran has given important early radio airplay to locals like Jewel, blink-182 and P.O.D. “But each time I left a station I couldn’t take my local CDs with me. So I have to build up the local library from scratch.” Halloran is asking local artists to bring by their CDs to the new 98/9 TJ-SD crew at Pitbull Audio in National City 2 pm Saturday to get their music added into the station’s local music collection. "We'll do the same thing April 7 at 2 pm at Secret Garden [Jardin Secreto] on Manuel Doblado in Tijuana," says Halloran.
It is safe to say no one has been hired/fired in San Diego more than Mike Halloran. This will be his seventh local radio home, following 91-X, Premium 92/1, 92/5, FM-94/9, KUPR 95.7 and Y-107.
Halloran had recent surgery to remove a cancerous growth on his kidney. “It got me to thinking what I want to be doing….This is in my DNA. This is what I do. I have a problem. I can’t stop doing radio.”
San Diego-based radio veteran Randal Phillips will oversee ad sales. He says 98/9 TJ-SD absolutely will borrow from 91-X’s long-lost bi-nationalism. “We want to launch our own Coachella-style music festival in Tecate. We also want to get involved in all kinds of events like the Tijuana Vespa Scooter run, or the Baja off-road race. We want to be super focused on events and tourism.” He says tourism agencies in Ensenada and Rosarito have long been ignored by other area stations.
“There are hundreds of thousands of people who cross the border every day,” says Phillips. “When you think of it, we really don’t have a border. Besides, a radio station like this is borderless.”
More FM which has studios in downtown Tijuana, has switched formats over the years, segueing from Roc en Español, reggaeton, hip-hop and sports/ESPN. “We have always been tagged as eclectic,” says owner Mario Mayans, 46.
“My grandfather started a radio station in Tijuana 80 years ago,” Mayans says. “The studio was at the Caliente strip mall. He was responsible for bringing Norteno music up from Monterrey to Baja. I took over the company 11 years ago.”
While owner Mayans says his station will be uniquely qualified to connect with major music events (“The Peninsula Tecate concert drew 25,000 to Tijuana last year,”) he knows it is harder for a “stand-alone” station with a single owner to sell ads to major, national accounts.
But on the plus side, Mayans and 98/9 TJ-SD has a huge advantage: Mexican stations like Mighty 1090, 91X, 105.7 Max FM, Z-90 and Magic 92.5 are rented from Mexican owners. Their American operators have to rent the station each month. “I understand some pay as high as $100,000 a month just for that rental plus their regular expenses,” says sales director Phillips. “Our monthly expenses will be a fraction of that.”
DJ Gonzalez maintains his new station will actually be more “alternative” than either 91X or Alt-94/9. “Nothing against them. I have friends at both stations. But unfortunately they are both run by corporate America and groups like iHeart. Guess what: iHeart just went Chapter 11....Neither one has an edge. That isn’t what radio is about. We’re a real station with real people.”